Chinese Gate



Chinese Portal (1990)

The portal to the Emperor's Palace in Beijing offers a stark insight into Chinese social mores. With its 162 nails symbolising the Emperor's 81 concubines, this vermillion-toned portal emblemised his power. In traditional Chinese houses, there are merely 2 nails, commonly referred to as 'breast nails', underlining the status of both the man of the house and his chattel. As I child, I often played with the brass nails that hung on the doorway to our home. For some unknown reason, they made an indelible impression upon me, and it wasn't until I working on this piece that I was finally able to figure out my infatuation with them. As my subconscious longings suddenly began to take form, I felt those nails to be like a woman's breasts.

Chinese Portal is composed of two sets of juxtaposed doors. The first, with its 162 symbolic nails crafted so as to look like real breasts, represents the entranceway to the Emperor's palace. On passing through the outer portal, one finds oneself in a darker space, at the back of which stands a standard Chinese doorway, featuring two breasts. The door can be locked by using the chain which links the two breasts. While working on the piece, I installed the locked door in my workshops. Friends and colleagues who visited me often remarked at the brutal and painful image evoked by the breasts in bondage. I could only reply that it was an accurate reflection of the status of women in China. Painful as it was for them, as spectators, to behold such an image, they should not forget that the vast majority of Chinese women suffer in body and mind due to the constrictions placed upon them. China has a rich, old culture, many of whose traditions are still adhered to this very day. Similar to the punishments administered by zealous Christians during the Middle Ages, some Chinese traditions, notably those pertaining to women's sexuality, are repressive in character. Having sexual experiences prior to marriage remains a taboo for most Chinese women. And, even if they do so clandestinely, the consequences can often be calamitous given their ignorance of their own biological bodies. For women everywhere, the breast is a portent symbol. Chinese women, however, are not unlike these breast nails on these doors, enslaved by tradition and unable to escape. The door has yet to open for them to walk outside.

ŠPing Qiu